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Small Town Crimes; Small Town Cops

Recently Mystery Readers Journal had a two-part series on articles about small town cops. Mine appeared in Volume 2—and here it is. If you don’t belong to Mystery Readers International and subscribe to the Journal, you should.

Small Town Crimes; Small Town Cops

For me, small town crimes are big time fun. Crimes set in big cities, with large and sophisticated police forces, are good but when murder happens in a more closed community, it’s more personal. The cops, or PIs, or amateur sleuths who investigate such tragedies more often than not know the victims, and the suspects. That’s the way it is in small towns.

The cop likely got the job because no one else wanted it. The coroner is the local undertaker. Homicide detectives? Nope. Don’t have one of those. Maybe Barney, at best. So the pressure on the investigators is even greater. And the watchful eyes of the community add another layer of conflict. Good stuff.

The police station is in an old house, the chief hangs out at the local diner, the corruption a personal affront. No faceless bad guys here. The killer is part of the community. The secrets are tightly bound to local history. There are many examples.

The best, in my opinion, is James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series. Dave is an ex-New Orleans cop who now lives near New Iberia. LA—the home of Tabasco—a small town nestled among the swamps in the Atchafalaya Basin. Nowhere in modern literature does the locale play such a role in stories. The geography, the weather, the colorful characters create a feeling that is real and actually makes your clothes stick to your body as you read them. Mr. Burke puts you there. And Dave is constantly battling his past and nefarious characters who seem to continually slither from the swamp.

Linwood Barclay’s Promise Falls series is set in a small upstate New York town that has seen better days and has secrets within secrets. And it’s these secrets that often drive the narrative. His cast of characters include a cop, a PI, a newspaper man, and all the usual suspects you see in small town America.

And then there’s Chief Kate Burkholder, Linda Castillo’s wonderfully complex and conflicted ex-Amish cop. When Kate left the fold, she was shunned by many members of the order, yet in each story she must return to that community to solve one sordid crime after another. Her past not only allows her to understand the community but also causes personal and political conflicts she must navigate. This is what great storytelling is all about.

And  what about the death rates in Kinsey Millhone’s Santa Teresa, CA and Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove? This would give anyone pause before moving to either. But these towns and their skeletons play major roles in Sue Grafton’s alphabet novels and the hit Murder She Wrote TV series. These stories simply wouldn’t be the same if they played out in a larger, more impersonal locale.

I grew up in Huntsville. AL and that’s where my Dub Walker series is set. Sure Huntsville’s Marshall Space Flight Center is the heart of the US Space Program, and the city has more scientists than you can shake a stick at, but Huntsville is a small town at heart. Drive 15 minutes in any direction and you are in the depths of rural America. Farmland and small communities. This small, tight-nit community plays a major role in each story.

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In my Samantha Cody series, Sam hales from the tiny town of Mercer’s Corner. You won’t find it on a map because it’s a total fabrication. But it sits roughly where the town of Amboy is—you don’t even have to blink to miss it—where I-40 and the old Route 66 part ways. The town’s compressed geography and isolation play a large role in Devil’s Playground. The story simply would not have worked in New York. And when Sam travels, and invariably becomes involved in murderous situations, it’s always to a small town. In Double Blind it’s Gold Creek, Colorado (also a fabrication) along the famous San Juan Parkway, while in Original Sin it’s Remington. TN—loosely based on Winchester, TN—where many of my ancestors resided.

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DEEP SIX, the first in my new Jake Longly comedic thriller series, is set in Gulf Shores, AL and environs. Though Gulf Shores now boasts hoards of multi-million dollar homes and high-rise condos, it remains a small town. And everyone knows Jake, his PI father Ray, and his friend Tommy “Pancake” Jeffers. These entanglements are evident throughout the story.

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So, for me, small towns and small town cops make the best stories. The geography, the closed communities, and the many secrets these places strive to protect, complicate the stories in a way a large urban area never could.

Published in Mystery Readers Journal Volume 32, Number 4, Winter 2017

http://mysteryreaders.org

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3 Comments

Posted by on February 24, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Dialog Is Tricky—Originally Posted on Type M 4 Murder

Dialog Is Tricky by DP Lyle

diialog

Dialogue can indeed be tricky. But, it can also do so much for your story. It can bring the reader more deeply into your fictional world, reveal character, move the story forward, expose thematic elements, and create a realism that allows the reader that “willing suspension of disbelief” so essential to effective story telling. That’s a lot of work. And it means getting dialogue right is essential.

One major problem is that it’s far too easy for authors to use their own voice and not that of the character when writing dialog. This is particularly true in first person narrations because the writer often identifies deeply with first person characters. This is fine IF the character is you, or very similar to you. If not, that’s a different story.

This leads to creating characters that “all sound the same.” In reality, good dialog should need no tags as the words and rhythm of the speech should allow the reader to immediately know who is talking. That’s the ideal, the goal. But that’s not as easy to do as it might seem.

So how do you do make each important character distinct? It requires living inside that character. Really getting to know them. Understanding how they think, act, and speak. Like making good chili, this takes time. It can’t be rushed.

Think about when you meet a new friend. You know that person on a fairly superficial level, at first, but maybe you later go to lunch together, and then spend more time doing various activities, vacation together, and gradually you become deeper friends. The person you thought you knew back during that first encounter is now someone else altogether. You know how they think, act, and speak. Can even anticipate what they’re going to say and how they’re going to say it. You now know them.

Same is true with fiction.

I, and many others, consider Elmore Leonard the master of dialog. If you haven’t read him and you want to write true dialog, you are short changing yoiurself. Each is a textbook on dialog. Many years ago at the now defunct Maui Writers Conference, I met Elmore and had the great pleasure of sitting and chatting with him for an hour or so on two different occasions. Hours I relish to this day. We talked about writing and story telling. I told him that I loved his characters and asked if he did character sketches or anything like that. He said no but that he would spend weeks, sometimes months, coming up with a name and once he had a name he knew the character. That struck me as pure genius. It was so simple, and so true. What he meant was that he lived with these characters in his head—-getting to know them—-and once he did, he had a name—and he knew them intimately. He knew who they were, how they would act and think, and how they speak.

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This taught me two valuable lesions.

First was the importance of names. A name should reflect the character. Who he or she is. I mean, it you look at some of Leonard’s characters, Chili Palmer is not a neurosurgeon, he’s a loan shark. Linda Moon doesn’t sit on the Supreme Court, she’s a lounge singer.

The second lesion was the need for time to truly know any fictional character. A process that doesn’t happen overnight, in either real life or in the world of fiction.

I have always recommended writing first drafts fast and not sweating the small stuff. Don’t edit heavily until you finish. The reason is that your characters will evolve. The character you knew in Chapter 1 is very different from the one you know by Chapter 50. When you go back and edit, you have a better grasp of how that character acts, thinks, and talks. You will say to yourself, “No, she wouldn’t say that.” Happens all the time. More proof of the writing adage: Writing is rewriting. And this rewriting is often where the characters will distinguish themselves.

So relax, take some time, get to know your little imaginary friends and soon you will instinctively know how they speak.

Original Post: http://typem4murder.blogspot.com/2016/11/dialog-is-tricky.html

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Southern Authors Expo at the Huntsville/Madison County Public Library

It you are in the Huntsville, AL area on Saturday, September 10th drop by the Southern Authors Expo at the Huntsville/Madison County Public Library.

I’ll be speaking at 2 p.m.: “Storytelling: A Uniquely Human Endeavor”

 

SAE

Local Authors Shine at Southern Authors Expo

Submitted by lmcphail on August 1, 2016

Come to the Downtown Huntsville Library on Saturday, Sept. 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the Southern Authors Expo. The library will be filled to the gills that day with local and regional authors ready to share their works with you. Huntsville is already home to a few notable authors…maybe you’ll meet the next Homer Hickam or Ilsa Bick!

The Southern Authors Expo offers the opportunity to connect authors and readers and for aspiring authors to meet others like themselves. The Expo also includes a writers room where writers can receive critiques and help with their first chapters, a readers room where authors will read from their texts in fifteen minute increments, and speakers on the hour every hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Aspiring writers are encouraged to bring in ten pages and receive notes and critiques from editors.

Hot Box and Sugar Belle Bakery food trucks will be available for lunch in the parking lot from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Southern Authors Expo is free to attend and open to the public. Authors will have copies of their books for purchase. Support our homegrown talent at the Expo!

Speakers

Auditorium:

10 a.m.         Ann B. Ross
11 a.m.         Les Johnson
12 p.m.         Michael Guillebeau
1 p.m.           Christy Jordan
2 p.m.           D. P. Lyle
3 p.m.           Melanie Dickerson

2nd Floor Events Room:

10 a.m.         Alex White
11 a.m.         Robert Bailey
12 p.m.         Pamela Hearon
1 p.m.           Sarah Henson
2 p.m.           Ann-Marie Martin
3 p.m.           Ramona Hyman

Readers Nook

10:00: Cathy Knowles
10:20: Toya Poplar
10:40: Amanda Orneck
11:00: Susan Spalding
11:20: Sasha Reynold-Neu
11:40: Daco Auffenorde
12:00: Margaret Vann
12:20: Mack Vann
12:40: Bert Carson
13:00: Joel Cobbs
13:20: Jamie Marchant
13:40: Cathryn Buse
14:00: Christina Carson
14:20: Frank Chase Jr
14:40: Ethan Fossett
15:00: Lana Austin
15:20: Hilda Lee
15:40: Debbie Esslinger

Registered Authors

Ashford, Joyce Ann
Auffenorde, Daco
Austin, Lana
Bailey, Robert
Baldwin, Mary
Barnes and Noble
Blessyn, Yura
Buse, Cathryn
Callison, Maria
Carnegie Writers
Carson, Christina & Bert
Cavanaugh, Mary Pulles
Chase, Frank Jr.
Chess, Kristina
Cobbs, Joel
Cole, Annie
Davis, Charles
Dickerson, Melanie
Distler, Dixie
Duncan, Victoria
Esslinger, Deborah
Fossett, Ethan
Gardner, Bonnie
Garrett, Shirley
Gilbert, Virginia
Goldstein, Deborah
Guillebeau, Micheal
Hearon, Pamela
Hensley, Ray
Henson, Sarah
Higginbotham, K.M.
Hilton, Eloisa
Hilton, Eloisa
Hyman, Ramona
Jacks, Lauralee
Jeter, John Sims
Johnson, Arloo
Johnson, Les
Jordan, Christy
Kerr, Kimberly
Kingsley, Stacy
Knowles, Catherine
Larson, Susan
Lee, Hilda
Lewis, Marlena
Ligon, Philip
Lyle, D.P.
Lynch, Lear
Lynne, Pepper
Mann, Angela
Marchant, Jamie
Martin, Ann-Marie
McPhail, Susan
Moon, Virgil C
Orneck, Amanda
Peel, Jennifer
Pociask, Anna
Poplar, Toya
Reynolds-Neu, Sasha
Rotstein, Robert
Satterwhite, Rob
Simpson, Micheal
Soden, Nina
Spalding, Susan
Sparkman, Pamela
Suddeth, Vickie
Thaler, Lynn
Trigg, Patsy
Vann, Mack
Vann, Margaret
Vaughn, Otha H Jr.
Vowell, Judd
White, Alex
Wills, Glenn
Zorbino, Shannon

Library Website: https://hmcpl.org/sae

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Guest Blogger: Bruce DeSilva: How I Made the Transition From Journalist to Crime Novelist

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A lot of people think that daily journalism must be a great training ground for novelists. I tell them that, for the most part, it is not.

As someone who worked as a news reporter and editor for forty years before writing crime novels, I was never comfortable with the bad writing habits and journalistic traditions that make most news writing unnecessarily turgid and tedious. In fact, I spent my career at The Providence Journal, The Hartford Courant and The Associated Press rebelling against those traditions and the editors who enforce them.

I wanted to write about real flesh-and-blood characters, but most news stories are populated by stick figures identified by little more than name, age and job title. I wanted to set my stories in real places, but most news stories use street addresses in lieu of a sense of place. I wanted to write yarns with beginnings, middles and ends, but most news stories are “articles” that insert information in order of its importance and then dribble pitifully to an end.

But the biggest fault I find with most news reports is that they are written in “journalese,” a standard journalistic voice that is stiffly formal, humorless, devoid of personality, and filled with bizarre sentence structures found nowhere else in English.

The best way to understand journalism’s voice problem is to take a fine piece of writing that we are all familiar with and imagine what it would look like if a journalist had written it.

Consider the first sentence of the King James version of the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth.”

Nice sentence. It’s simple, clear, and tells a big story in very few words.  But if the typical journalist had written it, it would have come out something like this:

“In a series of surprise moves intended to bring all of creation into existence out of what leading scientists call the ‘singularity,’ before  energy, matter or even time existed, God yesterday said ‘Let there be light,’ according to reliable sources close to the project.”

If a journalist had written the Bible, I doubt anyone would have read it.

Voice, after all, is critical to the written word. It’s the reason we have favorite writers. It’s not what a writer has to say but how he or she says it that brings readers back story after story or book after book. It works the same way in books as it does in life. Suppose you are at a party where someone is telling a story. It’s not the story that makes people crowd around to listen. It’s the storyteller. If someone else were talking, nobody would pay attention.

The best writers know that readers don’t read with their eyes. They really read with their ears. They hear the writer talking to them from the page, and what that voice sounds like is critical. The late great Robert B. Parker once told me that the main reason readers loved his Spenser and Jesse Stone novels is the same reason they love certain songs. They like the way they sound.

One of the reasons some fine journalists leave the profession to become novelists is that they want to be free to write well; and some, such as Michael Connelly and Ace Atkins, succeed spectacularly. But many former journalists who aspire to write novels tell me that they struggle because they find the transition from “journalese” to good writing difficult.

Me? I can’t begin to write a novel until I fashion a paragraph that gets the voice just right. Everything flows from that.

When I began The Dread Line, the new novel in my Edgar Award-winning series featuring a former investigative reporter in Providence, R.I., the paragraph that did the trick was this:

“He was a serial killer, but I didn’t hold that against him. It was just his nature. The way he killed irked me some. His victims were all missing their heads. But what I couldn’t abide was his habit of using my porch as a dump site.”

The killer turns out to be a feral tomcat that was leaving its daily kills on Mulligan’s porch, but that paragraph had the voice and the hard-boiled mood, that I was seeking. With that, I was off and running.

As a journalist, I was one of the lucky ones. Unlike many reporters burdened with editors who rigidly enforce harmful journalism traditions, I was blessed with a number of bosses who encouraged me to be a storyteller—and even to teach my colleagues how to do it.

And unlike most journalists, I spent much of my career writing and editing local, national, and international investigative stories, developing skills that I could pass on to the hero of my hard-boiled crime novels.

During my four decades in the news business, I also came to know hundreds of cops and FBI agents, lawyers and judges, mobsters and corrupt politicians, con artists and drug dealers, hitmen and gangbangers, prostitutes and snitches—experiences I draw on to create characters and plots.

But the main lesson I carried with me when I retired from The Associated Press seven years ago to write crime novels was this:  Writing is a job. You do it every say, whether you feel like it or not. You do not wait for inspiration. You do not dither hoping that your muse will turn up. You put your butt in your desk chair every day and write.

Bruce DeSilva grew up in a parochial Massachusetts mill town where metaphors and alliteration were always in short supply. Nevertheless, his crime fiction has won the Edgar and Macavity Awards; been listed as a finalist for the Shamus, Anthony, and Barry Awards; and been published in ten foreign languages. His short stories have appeared in Akashic Press’s noir anthologies, and his book reviews for The Associated Press appear in hundreds of publications. Previously, he was a journalist for 40 years, writing and editing stories that won nearly every journalism prize including the Pulitzer. His fifth novel, The Dread Line, has just been published in hardcover and e-book editions by Forge and can be ordered here: https://www.amazon.com/Dread-Line-Mulligan-Novel-Liam/dp/0765374331/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471633059&sr=1-1&keywords=bruce+desilva

 

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Posted by on August 22, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Book Passage Mystery Writing Conference, DEEP SIX Launch Party, and a Special Plotting Class

Join me at Book Passage Bookstore in Corte Madera, CA next week for these fun events.

First up on Wednesday evening 7-27 is the NorCal Launch Party for DEEP SIX. Meet my wonderful agent Kimberley Cameron, all the great folks at Book Passage, and grab a signed copy of DEEP SIX, the first in my Jake Longly comedic thriller series, and the updated 2nd Edition of FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES. We will have wine and cupcakes and some laughs.

Then on Thursday afternoon I’ll be presenting a special pre-conference class on Plotting The Perfect Murder. Bring all you great ideas and we will kill off a few folks. Fictionally, of course.

That evening the always excellent Book Passage Mystery Writing Conference begins. Come and improve your craft with a host of excellent instructors, including David Corbett, Cara Black, Isabel Allende, Rhys Bowen, Tony Broadbent, Laurie R. King, Kelly Stanley, Jacqueline Winspear, Tim Maleeny, and me as well as others.

Look forward to seeing you there. Here are the details:

DEEP SIX Launch Party
Wednesday, July 27, 2016, 7 p.m. PDT
Book Passage Bookstore
51 Tamal Vista Blvd
Corte Madera, CA
415-927-0960
http://www.bookpassage.com/event/dp-lyle-deep-six

Plotting the Perfect Murder
Book Passage Pre-Conference Class
Thursday, July 28, 2016, 1:00—3:00 PM PDT
http://www.bookpassage.com/event/pre-conference-class-dp-lyle-plotting-perfect-murder-corte-madera

Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference
July 28-31, 2016
http://www.bookpassage.com/mystery-writers-conference

 

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Posted by on July 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Even Identical Twins Have Different DNA

For years the dogma was that identical twins possessed DNA profiles that were not distinguishable from one another. But things are changing.

Fraternal (dizygotic) twins come from two eggs and two sperm and are as different as if born years apart. They are twins solely because they shared the mother’s womb at the same time. But, identical twins (monozygotic) come from a single egg and sperm. They are formed when the fertilized egg undergoes its first division and the two new daughter cells move apart, each then proceeding to form a separate individual. Since they came from the same fertilized egg, the share the same DNA. In fact, the two would be indistinguishable by standard PCR-STR DNA Profiling.

 

Twins

 

But, in reality, even identical twins have distinct DNA. We just weren’t able to see the differences. Before now.

As each twin embryo grows and develops in utero, and the cells continue to multiply, the replication (copying) of each twin’s DNA isn’t perfect. Minor errors or variations begin to appear so that by birth each Twin’s DNA is slightly different from its sibling. And as life goes on, each twin is subjected to different environmental stresses, which is turn alters each one’s DNA replication.

As opposed to STR, which looks at repeating short sequences of bases within the DNA strand, a newer DNA technique, known as Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP), gives the examiner a complete DNA sequence of the strand being analyzed. That is the exact sequence of bases in each strand is determined and this can reveal the differences in the DNA of identical twins. Another newer technique known as High Resolution Melt Curve Analysis (HRMA) might offer still another method to make this distinction.

So even identical twins are not so identical.

Want to know more about DNA profiling? Check out the updated 2nd Edition of FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES.

 

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Posted by on May 2, 2016 in DNA, Uncategorized

 

The Cyber Exchange Principle

Dr. Edmond Locard

Dr. Edmond Locard

 

The cornerstone of forensic science is known as the Locard Exchange Principle. Edmond Locard (1877-1966) studied and developed his investigative skills under the great forensic pioneer Alexandre Lacassagne and later headed the forensic laboratory in Lyon, France. His observations led him to conclude that criminals always left traces of themselves at crime scenes. And took evidence away when they departed. This became the foundation of his exchange principle.

 

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FROM FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES, 2nd EDITION:

The Cornerstone of Forensic Science: Locard’s Exchange Principle

Every contact you make with another person, place, or object results in an exchange of physical materials. If you own a pet, this material exchange is well known to you. Look at your clothes and you’re likely to see cat or dog hair clinging to the fabric—a pain in the behind if you want to keep your clothes looking sharp, but an incredible boon for forensic science. You may also find that you transfer these hairs to your car, your office, and any other place you frequent.

Known as the Locard Exchange Principle, after Dr. Edmond Locard, the French police officer who first noticed it, the exchange of materials is the basis of modern forensic investigation. Using this principle, forensic scientists can determine where a suspect has been by analyzing trace evidence (any small piece of evidence), such as fibers on clothing, hair in a car, or gunk on the soles of shoes.

Looking at Locard’s principle in action:

As an example, say that you have two children and a cat. You run out to take care of some errands that include stopping at a furniture store, the laundry, and the house of a friend who has one child and a dog. From a forensic science standpoint, this sequence of events can provide a gold mine of information.

You leave behind a little bit of yourself at each stop, including

* Hair from yourself, your children, and your cat

* Fibers from your clothing and the carpets and furniture in your home and

car

* Fingerprints and shoe prints

* Dirt and plant matter from your shoes

* Biological materials, if you accidentally cut yourself and leave a drop of

blood on the floor or sneeze into a tissue and then drop it in a trash can

But that’s not all. You also pick up similar materials everywhere you go:

* Fibers from each sofa or chair you sat on at the furniture store ride away

on your clothes, as do hair and fibers left behind by customers who sat

there before you.

* Fibers of all types flow through the air and ventilation system and settle on

each customer at the laundry.

* Hair from your friend, her child, and her dog latch on to you as do fibers

from your friend’s carpet and furniture.

* Fibers, hairs, dirt, dust, plant material, and gravel are collected by your

shoes and pants everywhere you set foot.

In short, by merely running errands, you become a walking trace evidence

factory.

Today, many crimes have at least some cyber component—cell phones, computers, e mails. text messages, etc. Does the cyber world also have such a cyber exchange principle? Yes it does and it’s actually quite extensive.

Forensic Magazine article: http://www.forensicmag.com/articles/2011/12/digital-forensics-cyber-exchange-principle#.UtFmzHn4VTE

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

 
 
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